On March 14, Los Angeles County’s Santa Anita Park racetrack announced an historic plan to implement the most stringent racehorse medication policy in North America, consistent with International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) standards–banning all race-day medications including the controversial drug Lasix, and banning the use of the whip “except as a corrective safety measure.”
The announcement came just hours after the death of a 22nd horse during Santa Anita’s 2018-19 winter meet—an unprecedented fatality rate, although each year at roughly 50 horses die on that track alone, and at least 500 sustain fatal injuries on all U.S. tracks.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a statement thanking Santa Anita for “standing up to all the trainers, veterinarians, and owners who have used any means—from the whip to the hypodermic syringe—to force injured or unfit horses to run.” PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo said: “This groundbreaking plan, which PETA has pushed for, will not bring back the 22 horses who have died recently, but it will prevent the deaths of many more and will set a new standard for racing, which means less suffering for thoroughbreds at this track.”
The following day, March 15, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced an investigation into the trainers and veterinarians who may have been involved in the deaths of those 22 horses.“Eleven years of broken bones and thousands of Thoroughbred deaths have finally resulted in a criminal investigation into trainers,” Guillermo said. “The DA’s office is doing the right thing, and PETA urges all tracks in the U.S. to stop the abuse and carnage and enact the changes made by Santa Anita racetrack—or get out of the business.”
On March 16, Santa Anita Park owner The Stronach Group partly walked back its original announcement, stating that the Lasix ban will be phased in over a two-year period at Santa Anita and its Golden Gate Fields track in Albany and Berkeley, California, to allow trainers time for the adjustment. “PETA will be watching very closely to see that these changes are implemented,” Guillermo responded, “and the public will join us in watching what happens to the horses. If one more horse dies, there will be blood on the owners’ hands and hell to pay.”
PETA has been actively working for racing reforms since the 2008 Kentucky Derby–when second place Eight Belles fractured both front ankles just seconds after crossing the finish line and was immediately euthanized.
Greg and I were longtime PETA supporters, and during the last year of his life in 2014-15, we adopted two PETA rescue horses of our own — Henry, who had raced during 2001-06 as Root Beer Float, and Caroline, who was found abandoned with Henry. Since 2016, the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund has carried forward Greg’s commitment to helping racehorses, with PETA’s campaign to end racehorse cruelty being a top grantee. Also since 2016, I have lived with a third PETA rescue horse, Charlie, who raced during 2012-16 as Charlie’s Quest.
Sources (accessed March 18, 2019)
- PETA blog: After Historic Drug Ban and PETA Push, DA Investigates Trainers in Horse Deaths
- PETA news release: L.A. County DA Launches Investigation Into 22 Horses’ Deaths After PETA Push
- Santa Anita Park website: Horse Care & Safety
- Jockey Club website: Supplemental tables of equine injury database statistics for Thoroughbreds, 2009-17
- Paulick Report: Santa Anita To Resume Racing March 29 After Historic Agreement Reached On Medication Reforms
- NBC4 Los Angeles: After Spate of 22 Horse Deaths, Santa Anita Set to Reopen on Mar. 29
- San Francisco Chronicle: Track ownership calls for Lasix ban after spate of horse deaths
- The Mercury News: Santa Anita takes historic steps to tighten rules on medication, whips after 22nd horse death